More than 1 in 5 Americans, or 50 million people, live with a mental illness. At the same time, 46% of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental health condition at some point in their lives. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, communities, states and employers were already facing strains on resources and their ability to provide adequate mental and behavioral health services. According to Mental Health America, over half (54.7%) of adults with a mental health condition did not receive treatment in 2019 and 2020. The pandemic exacerbated these preexisting issues, and nearly 90% of U.S. adults believe the country is facing a mental health crisis. Anxiety and depression symptoms, substance use rates, and deaths from alcohol and drug overdoses have all climbed in the last three years. At the center of this mental health crisis is a shortage of trained professionals to assist those in need. And the crisis appears to be deepening as state policymakers grapple with additional challenges, such as addressing the barriers to mental health services faced by various workers and populations, as well as the lack of mental health support within workplaces.
Where we work plays a significant role in our lives, as noted by the U.S. Surgeon General in the 2022 report Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being. “The COVID-19 pandemic brought the relationships between work and well-being into clearer focus,” the report says, adding that workplace well-being has a direct impact on worker performance. Workplace health is public health, as it impacts individual workers, families, businesses and the U.S. economy. According to a 2018 CDC report, poor mental health and stress can negatively affect employees’ productivity and performance, as well as their ability to communicate with colleagues. This, in turn, can lead to absenteeism, accidents and turnover, putting further strains on employers and employees. A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study found that more than 40% of employees felt hopeless, burned out or exhausted since the start of the pandemic. Another SHRM study, The State of the Workplace 2022-2023, identifies mental health concerns as a major challenge for employers in the last year. Moving into 2023, human resources professionals place supporting employees with mental health issues and increasing mental health benefits as a top priority.
The behavioral health crisis is multifaceted and requires varied policy solutions. By considering existing efforts to promote parity, encourage the creation of workplace supports, meet the needs of underserved communities, and grow the behavioral health workforce, this framework aims to assist state policymakers in exploring various ideas to advance worker mental health.
“Workplace mental health and well-being is a critical priority for public health. It has numerous and cascading impacts for the health of individual workers and their families, organizational productivity, the bottom-line for businesses, and the U.S. economy.” —U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy